CLEVELAND — In what may have been written to be a nuanced dig at Donald Trump but came off like the most sour of grapes, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told delegates at the Republican National Convention Wednesday evening to “vote your conscience.”
The line, which made clear Cruz would not be endorsing Trump, brought a response from the crowd that was immediate and brutal.
“The immediate takeaway was clear: Ted Cruz had helped unify the Republican Party behind Donald Trump — by making himself the villain.”
Delegates began loudly booing the icon, once nearly universally beloved by the conservative grassroots. The catcalls and chants of “Endorse Trump,” forced Cruz to ask for calm, by larking that he appreciated the New York delegation’s enthusiasm.
To make matters worse for the Texas senator, Donald Trump himself strode into the arena before Cruz’s speech had ended, stepping on the end of the ill-fated address and drawing a massive reaction from the crowd.
Several reporters and bystanders noted that former Virginia Attorney General and Cruz ally Ken Cuccinelli had to hurriedly escort Heidi Cruz out of the Quicken Loans Arena as delegates and activists jeered at her for the flub.
Cruz now ensuring that his fight w Trump will remain a major storyline out of convention, when Republicans hoped to finally project unity
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 21, 2016
Cruz himself was forced to endure the fruits of his “vote your conscience” act — the Texas senator was reportedly confronted and dressed down by Washington State Republican Party Chairman Susan Hutchison, who called Cruz a “traitor.” Cruz was also barred from entering a private box hosting a reception with Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.
The immediate takeaway was clear: Ted Cruz had helped unify the Republican Party behind Donald Trump — by making himself the villain.
While even former bitter rivals Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gave Trump their support during the convention, while even fellow 2020 hopeful House Speaker Paul Ryan gave his full-throated endorsement to the Trump-Pence ticket — Cruz instead elected to explicitly make plain he hopes for a Trump-fail in order to get another shot at his own ultimate, personal ambition.
Delegates in the stream of people leaving the arena at the end of the night were aghast. “I just can’t believe it,” one Southern delegate said. “I can’t believe he would do something like that.”
Other delegates cheerfully mocked old Lyin’ Ted for showing his true colors.
The entire incident was uniquely Trumpian.
No one can know if Trump imagined how well this would go for him and how badly it would go for his former rival, but reports indicate that Trump did know what Cruz was going to say by Monday — and let the show go on anyway.
In the aftermath, Trump was ready to pounce on his old punching bag. “Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn’t honor the pledge! I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!” the mogul mockingly tweeted.
Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn't honor the pledge! I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 21, 2016
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also lampooned the move from Cruz.
“I think it was awful, and quite frankly I think it was selfish, and he signed a pledge, and it’s his job to keep his word,” Christie said in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash. “Donald Trump gave him the opportunity to speak here at this convention tonight and I think it was too cute, and I think you saw by the end of the speech that the crowd was waiting for him to do the right thing … The performance you saw there is why Ted has so, so richly deserved the reputation that he has developed on Capitol Hill.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attempted to give Cruz some cover — a conciliation for his sudden vilification in the ranks of the GOP grassroots.
“I had the text of what Ted Cruz was gonna say, and I thought it was funny,” Gingrich said during his own address after the one from Cruz. “I mean, Ted gets up and he says, ‘Look, vote your conscience for someone who will support the Constitution.’ Well, in this particular election year, that by definition cannot be for Hillary Clinton.”
“He has to be for Trump, because by Ted Cruz’s own standard, there’s no other candidate that fits the criteria Ted Cruz set up,” the former speaker said.
But the intellectual justification was mere icing on the cake, a “there, there” pat on the shoulder of a man who now has defined himself in the constructs setup for him by his mortal rival. Fair or not, Cruz now owns the mantle of a self-serving character of ambition and distaste that brought the Republican Party together on Wednesday.